Trying to enjoy a mixed bag
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Our correspondent looks at the last few months

Trying to enjoy a mixed bag

The cat’s meow, Gil Hodges, and hello, Emirates

Gail and Jons’s cat Tuxi vamps for the camera.
Gail and Jons’s cat Tuxi vamps for the camera.

I’m taking my silver linings in smaller helpings these days.

It’s not so much the lowering of expectations as it is a heightened appreciation for the niche niceties of life as we brace for the full tremors of the pandemic’s third wave and expand our conversational references from covid-19 and the delta variant to the omicron strain. The rules, bulletins, and advisories from schools, government agencies, and businesses change every day. Some are déjà vu. Others are more adaptive. Cancellations of shows and sports events are upon us again. Hospitals are refilling. Will a fourth vaccine shot come into play?

Now, when small satisfactions arise, I try to pounce on them, much as our new shelter cat does when the penlight my wife and I flash literally drives her up a wall, or when my dangling sneaker shoelaces present an open-ended opportunity for play. We’ve rechristened her Tuxi because the shelter’s moniker for her, Gwen, seemed too fussy and sophisticated for the tuxedo cat she truly is. Her silky blackness is punctuated by paws and whiskers blanc, as well as half her nose and snout on the vertical axis. But her most distinctive characteristic is the broad highway of additional whiteness extending from her mane completely to the end of her undercarriage.

Tuxi explores the forbidden outdoors.

Tuxi shows no inclination to become a lap cat and she’s not big on purring, either. Yet she has a powerful need to be close to my wife and me the entire day (and most of the night) and exhibits definite canine instincts, shadowing us and sniffing at everything we touch. She doesn’t shrink from meeting strangers, allows herself to be picked up, has never hissed, and behaved brilliantly at our Thanksgiving gathering. Her adoption weight of 6.6 pounds now is up to about 8, although she does turn up her nose at some premium cat food, preferring the kibble instead. She’s fully vaccinated, spayed, and greets each day with seeming optimism and incessant grooming. Hours are spent watching the birds or any moving critters from windows throughout our three stories, or else bounding from room to room with no apparent agenda. (Am I waxing slightly anthropomorphic?)

It’s been nearly 30 years since Gail and I last owned a cat, the fearless Rasputin, adopted from a kindly proofreader at the Star-Ledger who caught me off guard one night as I raced from the newsroom to the back shop on deadline. “Sure, I’ll take her,” I recklessly responded to her adoption plea. Raspy, black matte with a dapple of white, lived 18 large years as an indoor-outdoor feline, friendly enough to comfort my dad in his last months and resilient enough to survive the creative tormenting of two teenage stepsons. When she died, my wife and I couldn’t agree on a successor. I wanted another indoor-outdoor cat; she was insistent on a declawed, housebound creature.

A meeting of the minds took decades for us to achieve, but it was helped along by new rules that prohibit declawing and also a growing awareness on both our parts that as empty nesters we certainly could help relieve shelter overcrowding in our own small way. Yes, Tuxi constantly tries to get outside, and on several occasions has managed to escape, only to return after a brief sojourn, eager for food and stroking. She’s using her scratch boards but also likes to attack my ancient office chair, which now contains more tape than vinyl.

Rasputin still casts a giant shadow, so Tuxi has big paws to fill. Yet she seems up to the task, which is to do nothing beyond delighting us. At least twice a day, she stops moving like a shark, rolls on her back, paws up and motionless, and awaits an extended belly rub. I always felt cats received bad press compared to dogs. I like canines well enough, but I prefer the insouciance and independence of felines. It was heartening to learn several years ago that a national household pet census put the number of cats at 53 million, compared to 52 million dogs. And lest we forget, they do not have to be walked and are litter-box loyal.

Gil Hodges finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in November, albeit through the back door. But that still qualifies as a silver lining. For years, I pondered why Hodges, a flashy first baseman-power hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their glory years and the guiding force who managed the Miracle Mets to the 1969 World Series championship kept falling short in the voting for the game’s most exclusive pantheon, even as his teammates, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Roy Campanella, were ushered in. Hodges died of a heart attack at 47, but all the boxes on his baseball resume had been more than checked during his abbreviated life. He also embodied the rugged, heartland qualities of a Hoosier star athlete who enlisted in the Marines during World War II and saw combat on Okinawa. There was never a whiff of scandal about him. His widow, Joan, 95, lived long enough to see his name and achievements enshrined.

Unbelievably, it took 35 voting cycles before Hodges gained admittance to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Finally, the Golden Days Committee, which considers the bona fides of players and personalities between 1950 and 1969, finessed him in. The Baseball Writers Association of America rejected Hodges 15 times; then the Veterans Committee added insult to injury by failing to muster enough votes 19 times. Statistics can be manipulated to buttress an argument for or against any player. (Remember the aphorism: Lies, damn lies, and statistics?) Today’s game is awash in metrics and analytics, yet Hodges’ numbers were more than solid enough for his era. I’d like to think that it was his character and leadership that elevated him to an entirely higher plane and eventually pried open the hall’s door. Consider that every player who ever received at least 50 percent of the BBWAA vote was eventually inducted into Cooperstown, with you-know-who being the eternal outlier.

My interest in Hodges is firmly rooted in my Dad’s decades-long fidelity to Dem Bums, which completely evaporated after they decamped to Los Angeles. When Hodges slumped, so did my father; when Robinson dazzled, Stuart Lazarus shared in the joy; when Snider clouted a homer, dad was transported; when the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees (a regular occurrence), he went into a funk; when they finally beat the hated Bronx Bombers, it was joy unconfined.

I suppose there’s a lesson in Hodges’s Sisyphean journey into the hall. Call it redemption, call it good things come to those who are (forced) to wait, call it a script rewritten until there’s finally a happy ending. I think Dad would simply call it long overdue. Certainly, the baseball community has taken a step to rectify an oversight, just as it did somewhat grudgingly (and on a much larger, more meaningful scale) when it created mechanisms for Negro Leagues stars to enter Cooperstown.

There he was, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, featured on Page 1 of the New York Times (digital version) on December 14. That’s not much news in and of itself; what caught my attention was who Bennett was about to greet and how he used the old LBJ-style hearty handshake and shoulder grab to press the flesh with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the first official visit by an Israeli leader to the United Arab Emirates. Definitely a silver lining

So this is what the optics of a warm peace look like. Contrast the scene with the stiff formality of meetings between Israeli leaders and their Jordanian or Egyptian counterparts, until recently the only Arab nations that maintained relations with the Jewish state, and agonizingly cool ones at that. Mr. Bennett seemed ready to do some serious politicking and the crown prince didn’t seem offput by it. Ultimately, the prime minister would go on to spend four hours, instead of the scheduled two, with his host. No doubt Iran dominated the discussions, but the agenda also dealt with trade, economic, climate, and food security issues. The meetings also produced a pledge to establish an Emirati-Israeli research and development fund and a joint business council. Although the press was barred, reports surfaced of the two men joking, and the prince whispering in Bennett’s ear. The leaders released a joint statement praising the encounter as “another milestone in the development of warm relations and a tremendous partnership forged between the two countries.” And Bennett waxed even more enthusiastic in a video by declaring: “I’m flying back to Israel very optimistic that this relationship can set an example of how we can make peace here in the Middle East.”

Since the Emirates disclosed their relationship with Israel in 2020, interactions of ordinary Israelis and Emiratis at business gatherings, regional forums, and other venues have become more routine. It appears to be the beginning of a broad-gauge partnership, at least compared to more subdued openings with Bahrain and Morocco, and a faltering one with Sudan, mainly because of that nation’s perpetual internal strife. Will Saudi Arabia be the next to come around … publicly?

In the less-than-silver-linings category, my online chess continues vexingly, erratically, soul-numbingly, and fumblingly (there is such a word). I’m playing folks from all over the globe, but no one from Israel yet. Well, here’s a potzer just waiting for you.

And yes, I recently read about the ultimate supply chain disruption: a cream cheese shortage. Kraft Heinz is urging customers to forgo their holiday cheesecake recipes in favor of a substitute treat. With gasoline price schmeering me, why shouldn’t cream cheese too?

Jonathan E. Lazarus is a retired editor at the Star Ledger and a proofreader with the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News.

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